Animation enters a new phase with Roger Rabbit. Trevorbhnston talks to director of animation. Richard Williams. about the significance of the film in animation history. Over the page we celebrate cartoons on the smaller screen
ILLUSTRATING A POINT
Felt cap muting the bell of his eornet.
Richard Williams holds in his sway an appreciative .la/z l-‘estiv al audience. packed into an lidinburgh city centre pub for a lunchtime by Dix Six Play Bis. Yet this balding (‘anadian with a horn also happens
to be the creator of the Pink Panther.
and the pen behind a multitude of adverts that include (‘resta bear ol days gone by. Before long. how'ey er. this master animator and part-time musician will primarily become known for something unique as the man who drew Roger Rabbit. the cartoon hero of the exciting and revolutionary new detectiv c thriller that has smashed box office records in the [is and looks set to do the same on this side of the Big Pond.
Britishet' Bob l loskins stars as Eddie Valiant. a private detective Flying the dark mean streets of ill-l" l..os Angeles. who tinds himsell drawn into a case involv ing loons. the animated characters working in the l lollywood animation industry. Roger Rabbit is a minor star in the Baby I lerman series. btit worries about his desirable wile .lessica's marital fidelity and his unwitting status as the prime suspect in a sensational murder case soon lead him to hire the services of the dishevelled gumshoe events which are but a prelude to the unfolding of a conspiracy that is to threaten the very safety ol'loontow n itself.
‘What makes ll'lio l'i'tmn't/ Roger Rabbit? different from the previous attempts at mixing live action and animation. in something like Mary Poppins .‘ Williams explains over a steaming mug of hot choclatc. ‘ls that whereas in those previous pictures the animation was iust pasted on over the top of the people. here the cartoon characters actually interact with the human surroundings. lf Roger is drinking coffee. you see and hear the cup rattle against the saueer.‘
The illusion of a living animated rabbit that casts a shadow and kicks over cardboard boxes. w hilc it instantly makes ll’l'RRf’ a milestone ol‘cinematie craftsmanship. did not come easily or cheaply. It needed the collaboration of Steven Spielberg‘s Amblin lintertainment and the rejuvenated arm of Walt Disney Film Productions. 'l‘ouchstone Pictures. to provide both the financial and technical resources required for a project of this magnitude.
‘You see we basically broke the rules laid down for this kind of work by lazy animators who probably just wanted to go and play some more tennis.’ the bouyant Williams continues. ‘Firstly because our animation doesn't simply sit on top of the action. and secondly because we wanted to move the camera around. rather than be satisfied with
the static frame these guys were happy w ith.' In practical terms. this meant a lot of time and thus a lot of money . 'l'hankl'ully the end product is a runaway success. because with a
budget ofsomew'here in the region ol . $5” .\1 it would have been all too easy g
to make a spectacular loss.
'l‘he reason for all the expenditure lies in the basic mechanics of animation. 'l’he run of the mill
Saturday morning kids' fodder tends .
to cut corners by draw ing only (i frames of a possible 2-1pet'second'. while the classic Disney features used ll frames: but with Roger Rah/ii! in order to achieve the authenticity of motion required by a camera that w as to be constantly on the move. the artists had to draw all 34 frames per second. At this level of painstaking creativity. one minute of lilm costs around Sllltltltlll and takes twenty animators a week to complete.
'/.emcckis is a brave and clever guy though.‘ admits \Villiams. ‘\\'orking with the guys from ( ieorge l.ueas‘s ll..\l special effects company. he basically shot a movie with a hole in the middle. [I was like working with the ins isible man all the time. And they also had to bttild the sets ten feet otl the ground so that the technicians could get in underneath and control the props that w ere going to be pushed around by the 'l'oons in the movie.‘ .\'one of w hich made the animator’s life any easier; ‘Well. you had to worry about the character’s
movement. about his performance. and about making sure that his hand gripped the gun that w as dangling on astring in lront of him. l.ol\olb;tlls to keep in the air at once.’
While the painstakingly slow production process maddened the Disney e\ecutives. worried about making the planned early summer wide release date. the industry bit// about the proiect and the combined involvement ol Disney and Spielberg paid off in a licensing deal with Warner Brothers for the use of several of their famous animated characters as part of the supporting cast. 'l‘litis. for the first time those paragons ol‘duckdom. Donald and l)al fy. share a scene that has them playing an unusual piano duet in a 'l‘oon nightclub. I-‘urther deals with Walter l.ant/ brought \\'oody Woodpecker into the proicct. and an arrangement with Dave l‘leisclier secured a special guest appearance by Betty Boop (although Popeye proved too expensive). \Villiams himsell provides the voice for l)roopy. the lugubrious 'l‘cs Avery canine who forms another addition to a roster ol cartoon megastars.
The challenge lor Williams then was to create a leading character that would not be ov ershadow ed by his famous cohorts. and he lound that Zemeckis knew exactly w hat he was looking for. ‘Bob was alter a Disney body. a \Vai'ner”s head. and a slightly less brutal 'l‘ex Avery attitude. but the baggy red pants and white face
w c ended up with made me think more ol an old liuropcan clown. The one thing we had to avoid was any Bugs Bunny. You know l)isney had had that proiect in the pipeline for years and they still had a grey rabbit. “You‘re era/y!" I told them.‘
‘l 'nglued‘ on the other hand. is \Villiams‘ word lor threc-dimensional lead Bob lloskins' mental state after long monthsol'acting toempty space. ('ast because of his uncanny ability to stop his ga/e on a fixed point ‘he really made you believe that the rabbit w as there. though towards the end he w as hallucinating all the time. “1th be at dinner and llL'ikl see w casels scurrying around under the table.' :\ unique kind of visual aid for the burly Londoner's exertions w as provided by actor ( ‘harles l5leischer. on hand to add the Roger Rabbit voice and clad in a special rabbit outfit made for him by his w il’e. 'l le had like these little floppy ears and big orange pants. ‘ Williams recalls with a smile. ‘.'\nd w hen we were at lunch at the studio one day. I heard one ol the other technicians muttering “.lcez. that rabbit movie must be terrible. lltat‘s the lead and he doesn‘t look anything like a rabbit”.'
'l he w holehcartedly favourable public reaction to the final product (because the illusion is sustained') could indeed turn out to prove beneficial to \Villiams‘ prospects of completing his own full-length
G The List 25 Nov — 8 Dec 1988